Dark Fragments, by Rob Sinclair, is the first standalone thriller written by the author of the popular ‘Enemy’ trilogy. It introduces a protagonist who at first appears to be a standard issue male. He has macho tendencies but displays many weaknesses. He has suffered personal tragedy for which it is hard not to feel sympathy. Somehow he has become indebted to a barbarous crook. His attempts to extricate himself further complicate his life which is slowly falling apart.
Ben Stephens loves his family. His beautiful wife is a good mother to their two children. The elder child’s birth mother was Ben’s first wife who was murdered in the couple’s bed seven years ago. Since that event Ben has struggled. Not only does he owe a serious amount of money but his potentially high flying career has stalled and now his second marriage is faltering. He appears craven, needing others to validate his existence. He blames everyone but himself for his position, justifying each ill-advised move he makes as necessary at the time due to the unfair manner in which he was being treated.
It becomes clear that Ben is possessive and seemingly incapable of shouldering responsibility. He is resentful of other’s successes believing himself more capable, more deserving and with better taste. Although arrogant, arrogance in others angers him. He allows perceived slights to fester.
Ben has a twin sister who he has neither seen nor spoken to in four years. He believes that she was favoured by their parents and blames her for their apparent inability to recognise and celebrate his potential. When she appears on his doorstep with an offer to help with Ben’s current dilemmas he suspects an ulterior motive.
Ben is trying to solve his problems by taking matters into his own hands. His actions draw the attention of the police. When the women in his life try to reason with him their words do not register. Always the focus must be on him. He begrudges their personal concerns when he needs their support, despite having put them in danger. When asked why he acts so foolishly he always replies:
“It’s hard to explain”
To which his sister retorts
“No, it’s not. What’s difficult is you getting over yourself.”
Ben feels hard done by when he is treated with contempt. He is angry and revengeful. His narcissism builds to a disturbing crescendo leading to an explosive denouement.
There is a chilling slow build with an expertly crafted unreliable narrator. Interspersed with the chapters written from Ben’s point of view are a conversation with what appears to be a therapist. She is being told a version of the truth, and Ben’s history is revealed.
I moved from sympathy to irritation to horror as the story progressed. This is a tale that may disturb, but is ultimately a clever and satisfying read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.